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New Left Review I/36, March-April 1966

Gareth Stedman Jones

History in one Dimension

Britain in 1914 was as near to revolution as it has ever been in the 20th century. A dispirited government, barely united and effetely led, groped its way between right-wing rebellion backed by military force in Ulster, and a militant syndicalist Labour movement freed from respectable leadership. Three decades later, a Labour party won a greater and more convincing electoral victory than any working-class party has won before or since in Western Europe. Between these two landmarks lies a period as yet scarcely charted by serious historiography: a period beloved by scrapbook historians and television raconteurs—the ‘roaring twenties’, skirts two inches above the knee, trial marriage, toothpaste in—powder out, the General Strike, Larwood’s body-line action; 2 million unemployed, the king who renounced a throne for love; committed poets, the Oxford Union debate; the rise of Hitlet and the Loch Ness monster. Profound historical developments and epiphenomenal trivia jostle together like cards in an unshuffled pack. Sometimes we are dealt Victor Sylvester and crossword puzzles, sometimes Stalinist purges and the Spanish civil war. But it doesn’t really matter what we are dealt; whatever the cards we hold in our hand, they always add up, so we are told, to a composite picture of the ‘twenties’ or the ‘thirties’.

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Gareth Stedman Jones, ‘History in One Dimension’, NLR I/36: £3

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